June 17 2010
It was when I found myself closing my eyes to focus on the intense flavours of an almond financier with roast strawberries that I knew I’d discovered a truly wonderful restaurant. I can’t take all the credit, though, because I’d cheekily asked Gordon Ramsay, while interviewing him for a magazine article, where he liked to eat. His reply was the Vanilla Pod in Marlow, run by chef-proprietor Michael Macdonald.
The restaurant is tucked behind a discreet black door in a house where TS Eliot lived from 1917-1920. The compact dining room seats just 28 at round tables. High-backed chairs provide a degree of privacy and there’s also an eight-seater private dining room upstairs.
Local produce is used extensively in Macdonald’s imaginative dishes, and the strawberries I enjoyed had been picked a mile away that morning. The flavours of the pan-fried gilthead sea bream on lentils, which preceded my dessert, were equally memorable, while hand-made petit fours served with coffee proved irresistible. Presentation and service were faultless and our two-course lunch was fantastic value at £15.50 per person (three courses, £19.50). Pictured: seared scallops and Jerusalem artichoke jelly with white chocolate foam and truffle.
Three-course à la carte and gourmand menus cost £40 and £50 per person respectively, while a £25 three-course set dinner menu served on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays is particularly good value. The lunch menu changes weekly, while the à la carte and gourmand menus change every eight weeks. And, should you get totally hooked, it’s worth knowing that Macdonald offers private cookery lessons tailored to individual requirements.